Opinion Opinion L.A.

Enough of the bubble-wrapped college student

A new University of California survey finds that nearly a quarter of students feel comfortable or even very comfortable at their schools. Only 7% feel uncomfortable.

Is the message here that these are happy campusers? Not in the viewpoint of university officials, who fret over another statistic: About a quarter of students and staff say that they had experienced exclusionary, intimidating or offensive situations at the universities. This, authorities indicated, cannot be tolerated.

"We want a welcoming environment. We know that if 1% feels uncomfortable, that's an environment we don't want," UC Regent Sherry Lansing said.

Nonsense. Some people are going to feel uncomfortable in almost any setting, but especially college students on campus. They're barely out of the social quagmire of high school. They're still forming cliques and acting out and shunning the kids they see as losers. It's not fun. It's just life.

It's one thing when the university is addressing serious problems, such as the unacceptable racial mocking at UC San Diego or the vandalism of a gay and lesbian student center at UC Davis. But the university cannot command or legislate universal acceptance and a real-life social network for all.

Troubled times happen to people, things that hurt their feelings and leave them lonely. Maybe it's that others are unkind, or maybe it's that they need to work on their own social acceptability. They're not going to find out about the latter if they never experience rejection, and they're not going to change the former because people have a right to avoid and even say hurtful things to others, as long as these don't break university anti-discrimination, bullying and harassment rules.

Is it the California self-esteem curriculum, which today's college students are just the age to have experienced before it was junked, that has led to this sense that colleges must be padded and cushioned against hurt? Or is it a growing victim culture in which people feel that painful experiences must 1) be someone else's fault and 2) fixed immediately?

In any case, a zero-tolerance policy for discomfort isn't a great way to prepare young adults for the world beyond their degree.

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Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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